Second-round pick Hayward could be the No. 3 cornerback
Ted Thompson watched his defense go from good to historically bad in 12 months and he wasn’t going to sit back and do nothing. Green Bay’s normally conservative GM signed twice-suspended Anthony Hargrove as a free agent in March and then traded up two times in the draft to procure help for his team’s feeble pass rush and leaky secondary. It remains to be seen how these springtime moves play out in the fall, but at least on paper, the defense sure looks a lot better today than it did two months ago.
Here’s my position-by-position look at the post-draft Green Bay Packers:
QUARTERBACK- The Packers needed to draft a rookie to challenge Graham Harrell for the backup job. Seventh-round draft choice B.J. Coleman could be that player if he’s able to make a quick transition from Tennessee-Chattanooga to the National Football League. He has all the physical traits a team looks for in a young quarterback, but his numbers in college were surprisingly pedestrian. I have no idea whether that’s more a reflection on Coleman or on his supporting cast. Either way, his development under coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Tom Clements and quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo will be fascinating to watch.
RUNNING BACK- Thompson didn’t draft at this position for the fourth time since taking over as GM in 2005. That leaves James Starks, Alex Green and Brandon Saine as the top three entering the first minicamp. It also leaves the door open for Ryan Grant’s return, but only if the former 1,200 yard rusher is willing to accept a deal for around the league minimum. If he’s not, the Packers should be fine without him. Remember, this team won a Super Bowl with John Kuhn and Brandon Jackson combining for nearly 300 carries. Speaking of Kuhn, he’ll return as the starting fullback.
TIGHT END- Even with Andrew Quarless likely to being the regular season on the PUP list, Thompson didn’t draft at this position. Perhaps that’s because he believes D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor are ready to contribute on offense after spending the majority of their rookie seasons on special teams. Williams is the more natural receiver of the two, but Taylor showed better instincts and more toughness last summer. Another young player to keep an eye on is undrafted free agent Eric Flair. The athletic and versatile former Gopher figures to get a look at both tight end and fullback.
WIDE RECEIVER- Based on past history, it was a little surprising that Thompson didn’t draft a wide receiver. Then again, Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel probably have as much potential as any of the wide receivers picked on day 3. The Packers also added a pair of undrafted free agents. Marcus Rivers (Buffalo) and former basketball player turned football star Dale Moss (South Dakota St.) are intriguing prospects. Both measure in at 6’3 and run in the low 4.5s.
OFFENSIVE LINE- Thompson finally drafted an offensive lineman in the seventh round, but Andrew Datko isn’t going to add much-needed depth at guard and center. The former Florida State star is strictly a tackle. Right now, Evan Dietrich-Smith is the No. 1 backup at all three interior positions. He did OK in two starts at right guard last season, but this is the same player that was released by the Packers in September 2010. Second-year men Ray Dominguez and Sampson Genus will also be in the mix. The former is a college tackle who’s still learning to play inside. The latter has plenty of experience inside, but is barely six-feet tall. With such dubious depth, undrafted free agents Jaymes Brooks (Virginia Tech) and Don Barclay (West Virginia) figure to get long looks in the months to come.
DEFENSIVE LINE- If you think you were frustrated watching Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal attempt to rush the quarterback last season, imagine how Thompson felt. Well, you don’t have to imagine. He told you exactly how frustrated he was by drafting two defensive linemen in the first four rounds. Second-round pick Jerel Worthy doesn’t have prototypical size to play end in a 3-4, but he has prototypical power and quickness to rush the QB. Fourth-round pick Mike Daniels doesn’t have prototypical size to play any position in a 3-4, but he also can rush the quarterback. See the pattern? Along with free agent Anthony Hargrove, the inside pass rush should be markedly better in 2012.
LINEBACKER- I may not be the biggest Nick Perry fan in the world, but after complaining for two years about Thompson’s refusal to draft a partner for Clay Matthews, I can’t complain too much. There’s no question the former USC star will make the Packers better at right outside linebacker; just how much better remains to be seen. Perry is a terrific athlete, but he ran hot and cold in college. It’ll be up to assistant coach Kevin Green to keep the heat turned up. Thompson traded up to get Terrell Manning in the fifth round. The former North Carolina State star projects inside. He probably won’t play much in the base defense, but he could be used as a rusher in certain packages. Along with returnees D.J. Smith, Jamari Lattimore and Vic So’oto, the competition at this position should be intense.
DEFENSIVE BACK- Thompson traded up to get Casey Hayward in the second round, and the former Vanderbilt star will be expected to challenge Sam Shields for the No. 3 cornerback job. Hayward doesn’t run nearly as well as Shields, but he’s a better tackler and a more cerebral player. That means an awful lot to coaches who had to watch corners miss tackles and blow assignments week after week in 2011. Last year’s fourth-round pick, Davon House, will also be in the picture. You wouldn’t normally give a rookie from Maine much of a chance to win a starting job, but that’s not the case with Jerron McMillian. The speedy fourth-round pick will be given every opportunity to unseat journeyman Charlie Peprah at safety. Young veterans M.D. Jennings and Anthony Levine will also be in the mix.
SPECIALISTS- The Packers are in very good shape with kicker Mason Crosby, punter Tim Masthay and long snapper Bret Goode. There was no need to draft a specialist, and any undrafted free agents signed will be camp bodies only.